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With Israel at war, what counts as a worthy Jewish cause?

(JTA) — Moving Traditions is a small Jewish organization with an unusual name and a mission that can be hard to describe on one foot. Working through synagogues, Hebrew schools and its own programs and curricula, it helps Jewish kids navigate their teen years in healthy, safe, appropriate and socially conscious ways.

 When the Hamas attacks in Israel on Oct. 7 threw the Jewish world into crisis, Moving Traditions created curricula to help teachers and teens talk about the conflict. And its CEO, Shuli Karkowsky, ordered up a “worst-case scenario” plan in case some of her reliable funders decided to hold back on their support and direct more money to Israel. 

“We need to be humble and realize that we are an organization that serves North American teams. And so I don’t think we can put ourselves out there as the people who are going to be solving the Middle East crisis,” she said earlier this week.

To her relief, at a time when the Jewish philanthropic community is mobilizing around the war, her funders said they are going to “make the pie bigger”— that is, continue supporting groups like hers and expanding their giving in Israel. 

As they have during previous crises in Israel, American Jews are pouring dollars into Israel to support people displaced by the war, to bolster nonprofits whose employees are headed to the front and, in a newish twist, to defend both Israel in the court of public opinion and Jews abroad who are seeing an uptick in antisemitism. 

Jewish Federations of North America has raised $638 million among its network of local Jewish community chests. UJA-Federation, the largest of these, has so far allocated more than $38 million for work on the ground in Israel. Israel Bonds said it sold more than $200 million worth of bonds in the week following the Hamas attacks. 

Jewish nonprofit execs celebrate this outpouring, but are quietly anxious. As priorities shift to the defense of and support for Israel, what will happen to the bottom line of the schools, social services agencies, cultural centers and other Jewish institutions that don’t have an obvious Israel portfolio? 

An adjacent question is one of discretion, even tact: With many nonprofits dependent on the end-of-the-year gifts that allow donors to claim tax benefits, should they go ahead with their own fundraising appeals and perhaps attach their “asks” to the current crisis?

“What irks me particularly is an emergency campaign now when they’re not related to the crisis,” said Andres Spokoiny, the president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, speaking generally. “If you’re a school that is not affected by the crisis, just tell the truth that despite the crisis, you need to continue operating, and that having a strong community means that institutions and organizations like yours need to be strong and healthy.”

Spokoiny, whose organization’s “How You Can Help” Israel page lists “trusted agencies and nonprofits,” has been recommending to the private foundations and philanthropists under his organization’s umbrella that they give “above and beyond,” supporting their traditional grantees as well as the emergency campaigns for Israel. “Otherwise,” he said, “you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Hundreds gather for a pro-Israel rally in Philadelphia’s Independence Square, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Oct. 16, 2023. (Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia)

Spokoiny also knows that the pot of funds allocated for Jewish giving is not bottomless. He is hoping the current crisis serves as a “wake-up call to the many Jewish donors that give, you know, token gifts to the Jewish community and huge gifts to their alma mater or to the hospital to give more to Jewish and Israeli causes.”

Barry Finestone, president and CEO of the Jim Joseph Foundation, recommended a similar approach in a recent essay in eJewish Philanthropy. Finestone prefers “yes, and” to “above and beyond,” and he also calls on Jewish donors to divert more of their secular giving to Jewish causes.

“Yes, we absolutely need to support Israel and Israelis. We need to contribute mightily to the multitude of needs Israel has,” he writes. “But unless philanthropy steps up in the U.S. as well, there is a genuine chance that much of the organizational structure we have spent generations building will be stretched to its limits.”

Normally, the San Francisco-based Jim Josephs Foundation funds Jewish education in the United States. (70 Faces Media, JTA’s parent company, has been a grantee.) In an interview, Finestone said he wrote the article partly in response to colleagues and friends who called him in recent weeks unclear where to send their donations. 

 “They ran the risk of being forgotten,” he said of the Jewish organizations that don’t directly serve Israel. “And please God when this is over, and we know there’s going to be a long tail both literally and psychologically, we’re going to turn back to our camps, and to our synagogues, and to our JCCs and we’ve got to make sure that they’re there, or else the fabric of Jewish life that we’ve built over the years has the potential to crumble.”

Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, says the outpouring for Israel has been inspiring, but also worries that the shift toward what he calls, in a Facebook post, “defensive, protective, and supportive” causes will come at the expense of “foundational” and “constructive” philanthropy. 

Foundational giving, he said in an interview, is about “keeping the lights on in the synagogues and Jewish institutions that do the core work of Jewish life. Deeply unsexy.”

As an example, he points to the flood of giving that is expected in response to the pro-Palestinian and antisemitic activism on college campuses. “Jewish students feel vulnerable on college campuses, so dollars are going to go to, quote, unquote, fighting antisemitism on campus,” said Kurtzer. “But there’s another set of dollars that Hillels need right now: They have record turnout for students coming to Shabbat dinner over the past month. They’re looking for foundational dollars so they can support [that] or provide counseling services, whatever students need.”

Constructive giving, meanwhile, is about developing new ideas. “What would be the next major play for college students,” asks Kurtzer, “that can help them build resilience and knowledge and relationships and all of the stuff that might grow out of a moment of crisis like this?”

Past crises have shaped Jewish priorities for generations. In response to the Six-Day War in 1967, American Jews donated more than $100 million — close to $1 billion in today’s dollars — in a little over two weeks. Six years later, when the Yom Kippur War punctured Israel’s aura of invulnerability, American Jews contributed $700 million in emergency aid, or $6.4 billion in today’s money. Both wars also cemented Israel as a central component of American Jewish identity, politics and philanthropy.

At the time, however, Israel was still viewed as a developing country, the historian Lila Corwin Berman points out. “For quite a while, Israel has been economically a fairly well-to-do nation and hasn’t needed American Jewish dollars in the same sort of fundamental way,” said Corwin Berman, the chair of American Jewish History at Temple University. As Israel prospered and the military threats against it appeared to recede, donors’ priorities shifted to the American Jewish “intermarriage crisis,” which led to the creation of the Birthright trips for young people and a push for affordable Jewish day schooling. 

UJA-Federation of New York led a rally in support of Israel and calling for the release of Israeli hostages, Manhattan, Nov. 6, 2023. (Luke Tress)

Corwin Berman acknowledged that Israelis still have genuine needs — for example, those who lost their homes and loved ones in the Oct. 7 attacks. But she notes that money going into less material needs — like the fight against antisemitism — will ultimately shape Jewish priorities, perhaps in unexpected or unwelcome ways. Some on the Jewish left have already complained that many groups fighting antisemitism have a right-wing agenda, while others worry that too many groups are fighting the same fight.

“The concern that I have about putting lots and lots of money into this fight against antisemitism is that it might develop a very, very blunt set of tools to use,” said Corwin Berman, who has written a critique of what she calls the “American Jewish Philanthropic Complex.” “I would say the tools at this point lag well behind what would be required to deal with an extraordinarily complex phenomenon.”

UJA-Federation, for example, is allocating $600,000 to responding to antisemitism on campus, normally a sizable allocation if only a fraction of the money raised for the emergency campaign. Mark Charendoff, the president of the Maimonides Fund, said the board of his grantmaking organization is also focusing on fighting antisemitism, along with what he calls the “internal refugee crisis” — Israelis displaced and traumatized by the war — and “strategic communications,” or advocating for Israel to politicians and the public. 

Charendoff said the Maimonides board does not intend to cut back on any of its current grant-making, which supports education and issues-oriented programs in North America and Israel, like Hadar Institute for Jewish learning,  an L.A.-based organization that encourages Jewish filmmaking and the fund’s own journal of ideas, Sapir.  But that they do intend to focus on “anything that we can do to respond to the current crisis. We should be looking for those options on both sides of the ocean. And this would be over and above our current budget,” he said.

And yet he knows that pivoting to new priorities can come at a cost in attention to other needs. 

“Human beings only have so much bandwidth,” he said. “And on both sides of the ocean, our staff are single-mindedly focused on the current crisis, obviously. Which means that we’re not focused on new opportunities, new ways of engaging in the elements of our portfolio that are not related to or not affected by the war.”

Karkowsky, at Moving Traditions, said her organization doesn’t intend to do significant fundraising around the emergency in Israel, but that doesn’t mean it has nothing to offer to a Jewish world in crisis.

“I do think there’s an enormous need for work with North American Jewish teens right now who feel confused and lonely,” she said. “They’re not sure what their political opinions are, or they do and they feel abandoned by their friends, or they do and they disagree really strongly with their parents who are coming back and saying, ‘How do I connect with my kid who’s saying things I really don’t agree with?’ So I do think there’s a small role for us to play as part of the work we would be doing anyway.”


The post With Israel at war, what counts as a worthy Jewish cause? appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Poland Bans Israeli Soccer Teams From Major City Due to ‘Safety’ Concerns

Stadion Widzewa is a multi-use stadium in Łódź, Poland. It is currently used mostly for football matches and serves as the home stadium of Widzew Łódź. Photo: maps.pomocnik.com.

Two Israeli soccer teams — Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Beer Sheva — that were set to play their European Championship matches in the Polish city of Łódź have been banned by the hosting country, after widespread outrage from Poles.

The Union of European Football Associations previously announced that Israel will not be allowed to host UEFA-sanctioned matches due to the ongoing war against the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in Gaza.

As a result, the Israeli clubs announced on Sunday that their new “home stadiums” would be the Władysław Król Municipal Stadium and the Stadion Widzewa in Łódź. Soon afterward, two Polish clubs that play at the stadiums released statements distancing themselves from the decision, with many fans expressing antisemitic outrage on social media against Israel and support for the Palestinians.

The Polish city’s Cultural and Sport authority then released a statement saying that no Israeli teams would play at any facilities in Łódz because “the safety of Łódź residents and visitors is the highest priority for the city.”

Yacov Livne, the Israeli Ambassador to Poland, slammed the decision and lodged a complaint with the Polish city.

“One should not give in to such threats. Lodz needs to remain a place of tolerance, not fear,” Livne said in a statement on X/Twitter.

Maccabi Haifa took second place in the Israeli top league, giving it the opportunity to play in the qualifying rounds for the European Conference League, while Hapoen Beer Sheva came third in the Israeli premier league.

One of the Polish clubs based in Łódz has a history of antisemitism.

In 2016, a group of ŁKS Łódz hooligans set fire to “Jewish” effigies and paraded a banner calling for the burning of Jews. Years earlier in 2013, fans of the same team invited visitors to an indoor tournament to play a game in which they could throw objects at “Jews,” models dressed in uniforms of the club’s rival, Widzew Łódź. A sign next to the game informed players that for a meager price they would be given “three throws at the Jews.”

Antisemitism is increasingly creeping into Polish politics as well.

Last week a virulently antisemitic member of the Polish parliament who extinguished the candles of a lit Hanukkah menorah with a fire extinguisher won a seat in the European Parliament elections, riding a wave of far-right success across the continent.

The post Poland Bans Israeli Soccer Teams From Major City Due to ‘Safety’ Concerns first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino Harassed in NYC by Anti-Israel Media Personality For Being a ‘Zionist’

Quentin Tarantino being harassed by anti-Israel media personality “Crackhead Barney.” Photo: YouTube screenshot

A notorious anti-Israel social media personality accosted filmmaker Quentin Tarantino at a New York City restaurant and called him a “Zionist piece of s–t.”

A woman known online as “Crackhead Barney” shared a video on Saturday of her confrontation with the “Django Unchained” director, 61, as he was eating alone inside a restaurant on St. Marks Place. She approached his table and shouted, “Quentin Tarantino, say ‘Free Palestine!’ Why are you a Zionist piece of s__t?!” Tarantino remained silent as Barney repeated herself and then asked him, “Going to Israel?” as workers from the establishment tried to make her leave the restaurant.

When Tarantino left the eatery, a rowdy crowd awaited him outside including Barney, who confronted him again. She repeatedly shouted “Free Palestine” and asked the director to “say ni–er” multiple times while also exposing herself to the “Pulp Fiction” director. The crowd of people outside the restaurant also chanted “Toes! Toes!” which is seemingly a nod to the director’s fixation with showcasing feet in his movies.

Tarantino is married to Israeli singer Daniella Pick, who is the daughter of legendary Israeli pop musician Svika Pick. The couple live in Tel Aviv with their two children and Tarantino spoke in 2021 about learning Hebrew. In 2022, he received an honorary degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Shortly after the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, Tarantino visited an army base in southern Israel and met with Israel Defense Force (IDF) troops.

Earlier this year, Barney harassed actor Alec Baldwin inside a coffee shop in New York City and recorded their confrontation on her cellphone. She told the actor, “Free Palestine … F–k Israel, F–k Zionism.” She repeatedly asked Baldwin to also say “Free Palestine” and when she would not back down, Baldwin eventually knocked Barney’s phone from her hands.

The post Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino Harassed in NYC by Anti-Israel Media Personality For Being a ‘Zionist’ first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Online Live Chat Service for Jews to Connect With Rabbis Sees 300% Increase Since Oct. 7 Attacks

A protester wrapped in an Israeli flag at a rally against antisemitism at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Photo: Reuters/Lisi Niesner

A live web service provided by Aish.com that allows users to speak directly with one of the Jewish organization’s leading rabbis has seen a 300 percent increase in usage since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel.

More than 5,000 chat responses (over 225 per day) are received each month, according to Aish, which added in a press release that many of the chats turn into extended conversations, sometimes on WhatsApp, in which rabbis help unaffiliated or disconnected Jewish users reconnect with their Jewish identities and form bonds with other Jews.

The Jewish organization said it believes the increase in usage of its live web chat service is due to the global rise in antisemitism and a newfound curiosity about Israel following Oct. 7, as well as a “yearning for meaning and community in the face of life’s uncertainties, and a desire for deeper meaning and spirituality in the face of a fast-paced modern culture where spiritual needs have been put on a backburner for too long.”

“We’re hearing from so many Jews who feel profoundly disconnected, whether due to living in areas with little Jewish community or lack of affiliation growing up,” said Rabbi Tzvi Broker, who oversees Aish.com‘s Live Chat. “The personal nature of these interactions, coupled with their anonymity, creates a safe space to ask questions and begin exploring. Having a live rabbi to connect and share with, has been a draw for many, and we’re seeing lives transformed as a result.”

Among their efforts, Broker and his team have helped people on the chat slowly incorporate Jewish rituals and traditions into their lives, and have connected them with peers through the organization’s new online community Aish+ so they can continue learning and engaging with other Jews.

“It’s amazing to witness lives being transformed in such profound ways,” said Broker. “Jews around the world are finding threads of connection to their heritage, and tapping into the depth and wisdom of our tradition to find meaning, community, and resilience in these challenging times.”

Bob Diener, the founder of hotels.com and the seed funder of Aish.com’s live chat, added in a statement: “The chat has been a powerful way for people to connect one-on-one with a spiritual leader and have their unique questions answered in a non-threatening and non-intimidating way. The chat’s rabbis are connecting so many people to their roots who otherwise don’t know where to go for guidance.”

“The chats have had a deep impact on many disconnected from the Jewish community,” said Aish CEO Rabbi Steven Burg. “Each of the people we connect with demonstrates a broad yearning to explore Jewish spirituality, peoplehood, and identity and that is why they have been turning to Aish for connection and guidance. We are happy to provide both while connecting them with local Jewish communities in their area, if there is one, to continue their journey.”

The post Online Live Chat Service for Jews to Connect With Rabbis Sees 300% Increase Since Oct. 7 Attacks first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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